Still writing

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People often ask me: Are you still writing?

I can’t help but parse the phrasing. The word still. Of course, it may appear that I might have somehow stopped writing, that I am no longer writing, because I’ve published so little since Girl Runner came out in the fall of 2014. During these past four years, it is true, I’ve published two picture books for children, a handful of short stories and essays in Canadian literary magazines, a performance piece for an arts festival in France, and these personal blog posts. That’s clearly not enough to keep the lights on, so to speak.

Are you still writing?

I understand the question. I know it’s asked out of kindness and curiosity. How to explain that writing is like breathing, for me? I could not stop. When I do stop, it will be because I’ve also stopped breathing. My life depends on this form of expression.

Are you still writing?

I am always writing, I explain. I explain, Not everything I write will be published.

I recognize that this is a painful truth. I recognize that to state this fact makes me vulnerable. We all like success stories. Painful truths we like so much less, we humans. We like winners because they win. We pity losers for losing. Is it shameful and possibly career-ending to admit: I’m trying, but I’m not living up to the standards being set? To admit: Success is out of my control? To admit: What I love doing may not be what the market wants? Some of us would prefer deception to truth. I wonder whether in the arts community, as in any career involving public scrutiny, we are more inclined to stare away the painful truths, to hide them, and perhaps this is the evolutionarily correct instinct.

Well, I’m going to tell you the painful truth anyway. I’m trying. I’m still writing.

There are problems that we have the capacity to solve with ingenuity and effort, and there are gravity problems. Gravity problems are problems that no amount of ingenuity and effort can solve: gravity just is, a force, like time, that doesn’t bend to human will.

I’ve been fortunate to shift some of my attention, these past four years, into teaching creative writing, work I’ve come to love. It is rewarding to receive immediate feedback, to test ideas live, to adventure in the company of others. Teaching is the opposite of writing literary fiction, at least in my experience. In my experience, to write literary fiction requires enormous patience, bottomless trust in one’s own instincts, and the fierce will to continue alone, for long stretches of time. It requires so much energy. All the energy comes from within. This can be hard to sustain in the absence of … I was going to say success, but I think the more accurate word is community.

There must be a better way!

This post has taken an unexpected detour. This isn’t the post I thought I was writing.

I need new fuel for the fire, that seems apparent from what I’ve written here. I’m out of steam. I’m still writing, but I’ve also given up hope. In my classroom, I strive to foster a creative community — it’s a goal that’s set and maintained and evaluated throughout the term. With deliberate effort, I make space for peers to meet, to share their work, to share the weight of vulnerability, and to learn how to offer useful critique, which is really a brave form of support.

I have never created such a space for myself. I’ve never even considered it as a possibility.

This is not a gravity problem. This is a problem that can be solved by ingenuity, effort, and most importantly, the willingness to be vulnerable.

Writing = breathing. If I hadn’t sat down this morning to write, I wouldn’t have stumbled across this discovery: what I’m feeling and experiencing can’t be solved alone. What I need is community, a writing community.

xo, Carrie

Every day I sit and draw
What would a writing community look like?

8 Comments

  1. I am STILL. Here. Still but here. I miss you. I want to sell your books, too. Still writing? I have been asked that question all my writing life. Also, now, are you retired? As if I could retire. Yes writing equals breathing. Even when I do not have pen in hand, I am writing. And these days, breathing is a good thing.

    Reply
    • Sheree, I have been thinking about SO MUCH these days, and sending love your way. I loved hearing your voice on the radio last week. I miss you too. It comforts me to know you’ve been asked the same question. It’s a hard question to answer. I don’t want it to bother me, but it does, which says more about me and my state of mind than about the questioner, I think. Keep breathing, Sheree. I’m here, breathing with you. xo

      Reply
  2. I too feel the same: writing = breathing. In fact, I write that all the time! We are here – your reading community! I hope you can feel the heat of love we send you as we read – even if we con’t comment. You must know that we are HERE and reading. And that counts. That is grand ‘community’. Success is a dirty word (and not in a fun way). I’ve banished it from my writing life because it always sucks the ‘hope’ and enjoyment out of the words, the work. Writing is a solitary endeavour, but then we share our words through blogs, poetry, art/drawings, novels, etc – and bits of ourselves stretch and grab hold beyond us. That’s what’s important. You’ve got vulnerability down! It’s one of the things I enjoy most from your blogs/art. So thank you. Happy breathing!

    Reply
    • I love this, Vanessa! I hadn’t thought about my blog as a community already in existence, but you are absolutely right.

      Success is a dirty word, or at least it feels that way in my mouth: maybe because it’s subjective, judgemental, and in many ways an arbitrary assessment of the work being done — too limited, bound by limited values.

      Thank you for reminding me that you are here, too. xo

      Reply
  3. And I’m still here, too, if you ever need a practice reader! xo

    Reply
    • Thank you for your generous offer, Heather! I miss you. xox

      Reply
  4. Carrie, I’m curious as to what a writing community would look like. As a musician, I can certainly vouch for the wonder and wisdom of community. My experience of it is varied, but it is always nourishing, inspiring and brings a generous amount of perspective. Interestingly enough, much of my art has been shaped by being in community, not so much by interacting about our actual craft, but rather, simply sharing and interacting about life and it’s many particulars. Community…YES!

    Chris

    Reply
    • I’ve tried to answer your question in another blog post. From the responses I’ve been getting, both by email and in comments … it’s complicated! And does not look the same for every writer, and may change as needs change. The interesting thing is that by trying to define what a community could look like, I realized that I actually have quite a robust community, or communities, in a variety of different forms; whether I’m accessing these communities is another question.

      Reply

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